In the wake of the death in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology on June 24, members of the U of T community have been criticizing the university’s lack of response to the incident, as well as calling for greater mental health supports on campus.
The death was confirmed by Toronto Police on the evening of June 24, and did not appear to be suspicious. As such, Toronto Police has declined to comment further on the incident. In a statement from U of T Media Relations to The Varsity, spokesperson Elizabeth Church declined to provide any more information, as it has “a responsibility to respect the privacy of those involved.”
“The university is offering support for members of our community who have been affected by the tragic incident at the Bahen Centre Sunday,” wrote Church in the statement. Church also provided a number of hotlines for students, faculty, and staff to use, which have been appended to this article.
Between the time of the death and U of T’s statement the following afternoon, the Bahen Centre had reopened and exams continued as scheduled throughout the day.
A tweet from U of T’s Twitter account said that the “Health & Wellness Centre is available to support anyone affected by the recent incident at Bahen,” but the university has not made any other public acknowledgements of the death.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) also released its own statement in response to the death, saying that it extends its “deepest condolences to the victim’s loved ones.”
“We are here to offer our support to any community members who may have had the opportunity to engage with the victim in their time on campus, as well as any who may find themselves personally affected by this tragedy,” the statement said.
When asked by The Varsity about U of T’s response to the incident, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that “more initiative could have been taken to address the situation. However, I can see why the university might have decided not to respond to such matters, as they can be very triggering to some.”
Boucher also called for “a different approach to mental health everywhere,” which includes increasing the number of mental health practitioners “and removing the rigid cap on visits that unfortunately leave many students without care.”
These calls for greater mental health supports were echoed by others online.
Maddie Freedman, a U of T student, made a public post on Facebook that has since been shared more than 200 times, saying that she was “appalled at the hypocrisy of the university’s response to a student’s death,” as the university was preparing for a final vote on the controversial mandated leave of absence policy, which has since been approved.
The policy, which was passed on June 27 and implemented effective immediately, puts students on a leave of absence if it is deemed that their mental health problems pose a danger to themselves or to others, or if it negatively impacts their studies. It was passed with much opposition from members of the U of T community.
Freedman also criticized the university’s response of offering hotlines for the Health & Wellness Centre, calling it “notoriously unhelpful.”
Laibah Ashfaq, another U of T student, also made public posts on Facebook and Twitter saying, “The education system is failing students.” Combined, Ashfaq’s posts and tweets have been shared or retweeted nearly 200 times.
“There’s no shame or guilt in taking some time to figure things out and get help from professionals,” wrote Ashfaq. “There are amazing counsellors and social workers on campus at [Health & Wellness] that really take the time to understand you and your situation.”
Church added that students seeking help from Health & Wellness “should identify that [they] are seeking support related to the incident in Bahen,” so that the centre can be “prepared to see them immediately.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, you can call:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
- Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
- Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
- Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
- U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030
Faculty and staff may access the Employee & Family Assistance Program at www.homewoodhealth.com and 1-800-663-1142.